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Flu shots save lives, just ask the neighborhood pharmacist

BY Michael Johnsen

Getting the flu shot prevented a flu-like illness for 6.6 million people last season, according to the CDC. In addition, it prevented  3.2 million medically attended illnesses and 79,000 hospitalizations. Not getting the flu shot can have adverse consequences, such as not going on that long-awaited vacation. According to a Walgreens survey, more than 11 million Americans had to change their vacation plans on account of the flu last year, most likely among families that didn’t get their flu shots across the board. 

Getting the flu shot works. But how much has being able to get that flu shot at your local retail pharmacy influenced the number of people getting a flu shot? More people are certainly taking advantage of the service. Walgreens recently reported that shots administered at pharmacies and clinics through November were more than 6.1 million versus nearly 4.6 million last year. 

That convenience of getting the flu shot at the local pharmacy benefits pharmacists, too. As of November, out of all healthcare professionals, pharmacists as a group had gotten the most flu shots season to date. "By mid-November we were pretty much where we were the year before, 63% of health care providers had gotten flu vaccine by that point this year just about the same as last year," noted Ann Schuchat, CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a press conference on the flu earlier this week. "I really congratulate the pharmacists and want the clinicians, the physicians, nurses, medical assistants, especially the people working in long term care facilities to catch up with the pharmacists," Schuchat challenged. 

North of the border, Shoppers Drug Mart is pushing to enable Canadian pharmacists to administer influenza vaccines, precisely because of the kind of growth rate Walgreens recently experienced. According to the Toronto-based retailer, it is estimated that immunization rates for vaccinations like flu shots would increase by 1% to 3% in Canada if pharmacists were empowered to give flu shots. This could help to reduce the 75,000 hospital admissions attributed to the flu each year, the retailer stated. 

Reducing hospital admissions is a good thing. New York can certainly expect to see its influenza-like illness hospitalizations drop coming into this year’s season — the New York Board of Health earlier this week mandated that all children in day care and preschool be inoculated. "Vaccinating children produces ‘herd immunity’ in the general population," a notice issued by the board earlier this year on a planned meeting about the proposed rule read. "This means that vaccinating children against influenza reduces the number of influenza infections in everyone else, regardless of whether they were vaccinated or not."

And it’s never too late to get the flu shot, though as many pharmacists will tell you, sooner is better. You just never know what the season has in store. 

This year, there is not nearly as much flu-like illness circulating as there was this time last year. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a robust flu season. "We’re not where we were last year.  Last year we already had quite a lot of disease," noted Schuchat. "But we don’t know what this flu season will be like because most years, in 90% of years the flu peaks between January and March. So it’s not too late to be vaccinated to protect yourself against the flu, but it’s too soon for us to tell you what this flu season is going to be like."

 

 

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Could ESI block Sovaldi from its formulary?

BY Alaric DeArment

According to published reports, Express Scripts may be looking to start a "price war" among the makers of the latest generation of drugs for hepatitis C — which promise much shorter treatment times than standard therapies, but also cost significantly more — in an effort to bring down prices.

The stakes are certainly high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 3.2 million people in the United States chronically infected with hepatitis C and hence at risk for liver cancer, and the CDC recommends that anyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for the virus.

That means the new treatments have strong blockbuster potential, and it’s estimated by some that Gilead Sciences’ Sovaldi, approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 6, could reach annual sales of between $6 billion and more than $9 billion.

The problem is the high cost. While the $84,000 that a full course of treatment with Sovaldi is estimated to cost isn’t necessarily unusual for specialty drugs in general, which can cuts hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, it’s still a hefty sum, including for payers. That’s why Express Scripts is hoping to play it against Johnson & Johnson’s Olysio (simprevir) and a possibly upcoming drug by AbbVie that clinical trials have shown has a cure rate of 96%, while ESI chief medical officer is talking about "some really tough formulary decisions." It plans to do this by threatening to drop Sovaldi from its formulary if it can get a lower price for the others.

And compared with the new medications, the average cost for a standard-of-care treatment was $3,284.27 per prescription last year, according to ESI, which lists Genentech’s Pegasys (peginterferon alfa-2a), branded and generic versions of ribavirin and Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ Incivek (telaprevir). Even though Sovaldi marks a tremendous improvement over such complex drug regimens, the price difference is hard to ignore.

ESI has already shown a willingness to drop dozens of drugs from its formulary when it thinks it can find alternatives for less, but it’s even willing to drop a drug widely touted as a "breakthrough" if it can get the others for less.

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Safeway makes its online shopping experience more accessible to those with visual impairments

BY Michael Johnsen

PLEASANTON, Calif. — Safeway on Friday announced a comprehensive initiative to make its online grocery shopping web site more accessible and usable for Safeway shoppers with visual impairments. The site enhancements are the result of collaboration between Safeway and several visually impaired customers.  

Safeway has adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0 level AA as its accessibility standard and has already made significant enhancements to its online shopping website to meet this standard and will continue to do so over the next year.

"Safeway has a long history of supporting our communities and people with disabilities. This decision is an important step toward helping our customers who are blind or visually impaired have a better shopping experience," stated Larree Renda, Safeway EVP.

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